Airport workers, child care workers, fast food workers, retail workers, adjunct professors and other low-paid workers will take to the nation’s streets again on November 29 to renew their campaign for $15 and a union. And union leaders want their members to join them.
The workers plan protests in at least 340 cities and 20 major airports – and that’s not counting a planned strike over dangerous working conditions, low pay and wage theft at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest and a main air traffic hub.
The workers are also training for peaceful civil disobedience and many plan to be arrested in front of low-paying McDonald’s restaurants “from Detroit to Denver,” organizers say.
But low pay, wage theft and the right to unionize without employer interference, oppression and harassment aren’t the only workers’ demands this time around. They also denounce police killings of unarmed African-Americans, corporate and political efforts to gut health care and racism, both protest organizers and individual workers said.
Continuing the Fight for 15
The protests are a continuation of the Fight for 15 movement that started in New York City, following the Occupy movement of low-wage workers that began in the Big Apple’s Zuccotti Park. One protest on November 29 will be in that park, organized by Fast Food Forward. The Service Employees’ Local 32BJ backs that protest.
“Newly elected politicians and newly empowered corporate special interests are pushing an extremist agenda to move the country to the right,” organizers announced on their website. “That’s why we’re taking to the streets on November 29th—our four-year-old Fight for $15 will not back down!
“Any efforts to block wage increases, gut workers’ rights or healthcare, deport immigrants, or support racism or racist policies, will be met with UNRELENTING OPPOSITION,” the announcement declared (their emphasis).
Individual workers told Fight for 15 they need to stand up for decent wages and working conditions. “Americans are united around our desire for a better future for our kids and an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top,” Betty Douglas, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, said. She earns $7.90 an hour after eight years on the job.
“We are the 64 million hardworking Americans that make far too little to live,” adds McDonald’s worker Chantoria Henderson of Richmond, Va. “We reject the politics of divisiveness that tear America apart by race, religion, ethnicity, and gender,” she added while holding a sign that read “Stop killing black workers. Fight for 15.”
“We say unequivocally – any efforts to block wage increases, gut workers’ rights, deport immigrants, or support racism or racist policies will be met with unrelenting opposition,” Henderson warned.
The airport protests make the same point. “We’re mobilizing fight for 15 at D.C. airports because poverty doesn’t fly,” says Carlos Jimenez, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Central Labor Council. He urged other unionists to join a noon protest there at National Airport’s original terminal.
The D.C. airports’ workers, at National and Dulles, like other exploited baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and cabin cleaners hired by subcontractors so that the airlines have “deniability” about working conditions, make the minimum wage or slightly more.
The O’Hare strike, approved by workers there who are being organized by Service Employees Local 1, is more than a protest. The workers there also had to file complaints with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration over unsafe working conditions and with state and city agencies over wage theft by their employers.
“All we are saying here is, look, these men and women are getting hurt,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told a November 21 press conference announcing the strike authorization vote. Behind him, protesting workers taped their mouths shut and wore blue medical gloves, WLS-TV showed.
SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff said cabin cleaners are especially vulnerable to workplace dangers. And a cabin cleaner who requested anonymity for fear of company retaliation told another Chicago TV station that “the really thin” latex gloves the firm provides do not protect workers against hazards ranging from vomit on up. The gloves easily rip, he said.